A/N: A new story! This is always exciting for me. I hope it is for you too. There are just a few things I want to say before we get to it:
1. This is Sess/Kag - minimal to no bashing of other characters, though. Really! I know - I'm surprised too.
2. Don't be fooled by the title - this isn't a cuddly and cute story. This story shares its title with a Nine Inch Nails song and I'm sure most of you know, NIN isn't exactly happy-go-lucky stuff. This story will be considerably more adult than most of my stories. It's the nature of going through time periods that are full of war and blood and disease. There is a reason for the rating - it's not dark fic by a long shot, but it's a step in that general direction at points. As for the other meaning of "adult"... well, I'll just say that nothing breaks FFN's rules.
3. As a warning, I am going to be INCREDIBLY busy this year. Ungodly busy. I'll try to warn you ahead of time if it's going to be awhile for the next chapter to be posted, but if I forget, please don't lynch me. Just remember, I always finish my stories.
4. I'm pretending the canon ended with the anime - i.e. open-ended. Obviously, I can't continue from the end of the manga or I'd just be twisting things beyond reason.
5. Thanks (and I have the feeling this is the first of many times) go to Ijin for all the help she freely gives, even when I'm being ridiculously crazy. :)
Beside You in Time
1550: Edo, Japan
It was unseasonably warm, even in the shade of the forest, but she was running anyway. Sweat dripped down her back between her shoulder blades, and her eyes watered. Trees jostled her from right to left, and her ankles protested each time her feet slammed onto the hard forest floor, but she didn't stop. She couldn't stop.
The stitch her side was quickly becoming unbearable. How many times had she let Inuyasha carry her? Or Kirara? Now she was paying for it - the half-demon and the fire-cat were nowhere to be found at the moment she needed to run the fastest. Her chest was close to bursting open from the pain. Her legs were on fire, and the mucus of extreme thirst was building in her mouth. But she couldn't even call out - who could hear her anyway? She must be so far from them by now.
Even so, she had to try, before she had used up all of her energy. "Inuyasha!" she croaked. She swallowed and winced as her shoulder slammed hard into a tree. "Inuyasha!" she cried out again. She could barely hear her own voice - the blood pumping in her ears was too loud.
In the distance, four small forms danced through the treetops. They were taunting her, she knew. They could have outstripped her long ago. She could only hope that their confidence would give her a chance to catch them. To stop them. To kill them.
She just wanted the Jewel back.
For at least the fourth time, she swore at herself inside her head. How could she have been such a fool? She was supposed to be protecting the Shikon no Tama - the complete and wish-granting Shikon no Tama. She had only had it for a few days - her bandaged leg and the bruises decorating her body were proof enough that she had been through a vicious battle just recently. She could feel the stitches in her thigh loosening as she ran, and she knew that the white strips of cloth around her leg would soon be blossoming with fresh blood. Quite soon she would be out of energy, bleeding, and in the middle of nowhere.
And if she survived - if she somehow managed to avoid drawing a hungry youkai with the scent of fresh blood within minutes of collapsing - she knew Inuyasha would kill her. For four years they had labored to complete the Jewel, and the final battle was fresh in their minds. Naraku was so newly dead that they had all agreed that they could not let their guard down - he had a habit of surviving the impossible, after all. And as soon as she was beginning to feel comfortable, this had happened. She had allowed four malicious little monkeys to take the Jewel from her own fingers.
Yes. Inuyasha would kill her. So would the others, for that matter. They had lost so much to get to this point. Kohaku's grave still smelled of freshly turned earth.
Ahead of her, the Shikon no Tama came to a stop, and she almost cried with relief. She knew there was a battle coming, but at least she could stop running. And all she needed was one chance - one opening - to touch those thieving monkeys. She had learned to control her powers quite well over the past years, and her frustration was more than enough to fuel a quadruple purification.
The trees were thinning out and she could hear the rushing of water. Flat, smooth stones slid underneath her feet as she came to the edge of the river and looked across. The smallest demon stood on the other side, watching her pant and wipe at the sweat on her brow. He held the Jewel in his tiny, knobby hands. She took one step forward and let the river water seep into her shoes.
"Give it back," she wheezed.
The words were barely out of her mouth before there was a stinging in her left cheek, and she fell into the water. The stones of the river bed cut into her outstretched hand, and she jammed her elbow as she rolled back to avoid going face-first into the freezing river. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the monkey troupe reassembling on the opposite bank.
She sat in the cool water for a moment, stunned and trying to catch her breath. The youkai didn't move either, and she looked up just in time to see the shimmer of a barrier surrounding them. She was confused for a moment - they could have easily outrun her and saved themselves the trouble of tricky magic. Then she realized that she was not the threat.
There was a small splash to her left, and she saw a flash of silver hair. But no red. The new arrival moved in a blur with the sing of a sword being drawn filling the forest. It was only when the metal was whining against the troupe's barrier did she realize who she was staring at. "Sesshoumaru!"
The taiyoukai gave her a half-glance before turning back to the well-protected monkey family. Kagome got to her feet, dripping with water and sweat. She probably stank, offending his delicate senses, but she didn't care. The barrier was hardly rippling under Sesshoumaru's attacks. "We need the Tetsusaiga!" she urged, as Tokijin slid ineffectually against the barrier once again.
He looked more fully at her, and she noticed the leader of the troupe was now holding the Jewel and murmuring over it. They didn't have time for Tetsusaiga. She stumbled forward, her hands outstretched. "No!" she cried. "Don't! You can't!"
Sesshoumaru did not shy away as her fingers began to glow. He struck again with his blade, ignoring the jarring reverberation that it sent up his one remaining arm. Kagome came crashing to the other side of the barrier, slamming her flat palms against it. Just as the taiyoukai had to trust that she would not purify him, she had to trust that he would not slice her in half. It was a remnant of their brief, uneasy truce, but she was suddenly so relieved he was here with her. And with only the barrier in between them, they put all their strength behind their attacks. The hot heat of her purification powers spread through the clearing as the sounds of Tokijin's strikes bounced through the trees.
The barrier began to crack - it shivered under their combined attack.
"Stop it!" she yelled again. The leader lifted his preternaturally intelligent eyes to hers, and Kagome was struck by the thought that these creatures were not what she thought. A ripple of fear went down her spine as she continued to pound on the barrier. She couldn't understand the raspy noises coming from his fang-filled mouth, but the Jewel was beginning to glow and she was hit by how awful and ironic the whole situation was. All that work, for this? It couldn't end here!
"Inuyasha!" she cried out again, desperately.
She brought her hands down again, just as Tokijin collided with the barrier on the other side, and the whole shimmering bubble splintered apart. The monkeys screeched as she reached out for them.
Her hands closed around the monkey leader's hands and the precious stone within them just as the Jewel exploded in dazzling light. Kagome felt herself get thrown backwards and the sharp pain that started at the crown of her head, going down to her toes. Then she didn't feel anything for quite some time.
She had a fat lip, she realized upon waking. And oh, she ached all over. She lay there for a moment to take stock of her limbs and her injuries and decided that, despite the lingering pain, she was in fairly good shape. Nothing was broken. Her wounds weren't seeping with blood or anything more disturbing. It was nothing a few painkillers and a week at home couldn't fix.
Clenching her teeth, Kagome rolled to her side and pushed herself up. Okay, perhaps it would take several painkillers, but she was at least alive and safe in Kaede's hut.
She frowned and experimentally put some weight on her feet. The fresh stitches in her thigh stretched but held, and she eventually managed to stand upright, albeit a bit unsteadily.
Running one hand along the wall for balance, she walked slowly out the hut. It had hurt to realize that none of her friends - not even Shippo - had sat with her, but she realized they hadn't wandered far. She could hear the soft tones of Miroku and Sango, interspersed with Inuyasha's rough voice. They didn't sound too angry, she thought, as she hobbled closer. Perhaps they would forgive her for losing the Jewel in light of the fact that she had been injured. Maybe Inuyasha wouldn't yell.
She snorted. Right. And maybe Naraku was really just a misunderstood romantic.
Rounding the corner of the hut, she found her three friends in deep discussion with Kikyo. Kagome's stomach twisted at the sight of the undead miko - they weren't precisely enemies anymore, but it was difficult to see her in the place that Kagome normally occupied. It was understandable that Inuyasha would call upon her, since she wasn't exactly in prime form to go after the Jewel herself, but this potential confrontation was going to be a thousand times more difficult with Kikyo nearby.
Inuyasha froze as she came towards them, his golden eyes going wide. "Kagome?"
The others turned, and Kagome saw that Sango's eyes were red. Miroku's hand - bare of the rosary for the first time in years - shook. Kagome tried to smile. "Hi, guys."
The taijiya was suddenly hugging her with a fierce emotion that Kagome had never seen before. "Kagome! We thought we lost you too!"
The miko looked over the demon slayer's shoulder at the stricken males. Kikyo was staring too. "What happened? I'm fine! I'm fine," she said again. "Except for the fact that I lost the Jewel."
"To lose the Jewel but to keep you, Kagome, is more than we thought we could ask for," Miroku said.
She shook her head as Sango reluctantly pulled away. "I don't understand. You're not mad at me?" she asked.
"We're mad at the bastards that tried to kill you," growled Inuyasha, crossing his arms. His ears flattened against his head. "It's not your fault the Jewel was stolen from you," he added quietly.
Kagome stepped forward to assure him otherwise when Kikyo spoke. "You were near death," she murmured, and Kagome understood that the undead miko was surprised, not displeased, about that fact. A chill settled into her bones.
"I'm fine," she whispered.
"I'm amazed you're able to stand! We were talking about how Inuyasha would tell your mother if you died," Sango said. "We were certain you would. You had hit your head so hard, Kagome. You were so pale and you weren't waking up. You nearly split your skull open."
Her hand floated up to the back of her head and, for the first time, Kagome felt the dried blood in her hair. "Maybe Sesshoumaru..." She bit her lip and shivered. The thought of the taiyoukai using Tenseiga on her was somehow more terrifying than the feeling of blood under her fingertips.
"Sesshoumaru was gone," Inuyasha said with a scowl. "He left you there."
"So did the monkey demons," Kagome replied.
Miroku straightened his shoulders. "Monkey demons? They were the youkai that stole the Jewel? And Lord Sesshoumaru could not defeat them?"
Kagome shook her head. "They had some sort of barrier. It took both of us to break it, and by the time we did, they'd used the wish. It exploded, and I got thrown backwards." She lifted her eyes to the hanyou, but he wouldn't return her look. "I'm so sorry," she said.
Inuyasha made a soft noise of frustration and shifted his weight restlessly. "Doesn't matter," he muttered. "You're okay. The Jewel is gone."
"No, it isn't," Kikyo said. "The Jewel is only supposed to disappear if someone used its wish for an unselfish purpose. Undoubtedly, the youkai used it for their own, selfish purposes. The Shikon no Tama is permanently tainted now and still powerful."
There was an uncomfortable silence. "What was the wish?" Sango asked.
Kagome sighed. "I don't know. I couldn't hear it."
"Lord Sesshoumaru might know," Miroku pointed out.
Inuyasha scoffed. "Who cares? Eventually, they'll turn up and I'll kill them. And get the Jewel back," he added forcefully. He looked at Kagome and quickly glanced away again. "I'm not asking that interfering bastard anything."
"If not for Lord Sesshoumaru, Kagome could have been killed," the monk said. "It is likely that he only interfered because he said that he would help us defeat Naraku and complete the Jewel. Lord Sesshoumaru would not want yet another demon to get the Shikon no Tama. He probably saw it as part of his oath. He was our ally just a week ago."
"And when Naraku died, so did any truce I had with him," Inuyasha growled. "He obviously feels the same, since he didn't even help Kagome when she was dying!"
Sango looked back and forth between the hanyou and young miko. "Perhaps we should look for these demons, instead of waiting for them to come back. Before they can cause trouble."
The hanyou shrugged jerkily, and Kagome bit her lip. "We'll discuss it later, I guess," she murmured. She took a shaky step towards the dog demon. "Inuyasha, can I talk with you for a minute? Now?"
He hesitated, but nodded at last. "Wait a moment," said Sango, as Inuyasha reached to pick her up. She disappeared into the hut and reemerged a moment later with a thick blanket. She wrapped it around Kagome's shoulders. "You can't get sick too," she warned.
"Thank you," murmured the priestess.
Sango leaned close. "It's no problem, Kagome," she said with a brief, watery smile. "You'll be fine now. We all will."
Kagome lifted her eyes and recognized forgiveness. Miroku stood behind his betrothed with the his peaceful, resigned expression telling her that he forgave her as well. The miko was unsure of whether to smile or to collapse on the ground, crying that they were being far too merciful. Before she could make a decision, the others moved away, and the hanyou scooped her up into his arms.
When they reached the God Tree, he tucked her in beside him and bowed his head. She leaned into him slightly, pulling the blanket closer to her shoulders. It was far colder today than yesterday, when she had been chasing those monkey youkai through the forest. If it had been yesterday. She had forgotten to ask and now was not the time. "Inuyasha, I'm sorry," she whispered. It was too much to hope that the hanyou would give her the same forgiveness that she had received from Miroku and Sango without actually having to ask or to apologize. "I tried to get it back. I just... didn't make it in time."
"You're so stupid."
Kagome took in a sharp breath and tried to move away, but his clawed hand wrapped around her wrist. "No," he growled. "I meant that you shouldn't be sorry. It's not your fault. I wasn't there. I should have been protecting you, Kagome, and you nearly got killed. And my bastard half-brother was the one who helped you instead. I could have broken that barrier." His free hand twisted around the hilt of Tetsusaiga.
She relaxed only slightly. "I called for you. Where were you?"
He was quiet for a moment. "Here."
Kagome glanced at his frown and, for the first time, saw the guilt etched into his features. It was the guilt that saved her from his anger, she knew. To tell the truth, a piece of her blamed him too, especially when she realized exactly what he had been doing while he was busy not saving her. It was no coincidence that Kikyo had turned up so quickly and conveniently. "I see," was all she said.
"What are you going to do now?" he asked suddenly.
She blinked. "What do you mean?" She turned to look at him again, more fully this time. "The Jewel is still out there."
"But it's complete and the wish has been used up," Inuyasha replied. He said it with such steadiness that Kagome realized with a jolt that he had rehearsed this conversation.
"Do you want me to go?"
His head jerked around to look back at her. She was jumping ahead in his script. "N-no. I want you to stay." A fierce blush colored his cheeks. "Shippo would miss you," he added quickly.
The frown marring her features was so deep and sad that he had to turn away. "All I wanted to know, when I asked to talk to you, was whether you were angry with me," she said. "And to tell you how sorry I am for losing the Jewel."
His jaw clenched and relaxed a few times. "You already said you were sorry."
"But you didn't say it was okay," she replied.
"Because it's not. This wasn't the way it was supposed to go."
She looked at him through her eyelashes, which were suddenly heavy with salty tears. "A lot of things don't happen the way they weren't supposed to," she replied. "All I can do is say I'm sorry."
He nodded. "It's fine," he said stiffly.
She sighed. It was a start, and the best that she could expect from Inuyasha at this point. "I would like to go home," she said. He looked at her sharply and she shook her head. "Not permanently, of course! Just for a few days. To see a doctor and to tell my mother that I'm alive and the Jewel is complete, if not with us."
Inuyasha let out a soft breath that she hoped was a sign of his relief and not resignation. "Yeah, you should," he said. "I'll come and get you in a couple of days."
That was his guilt talking again, allowing her to go, but she was willing to take what she could get. By the time he came looking for her, he would have recovered from the guilt and shock of her near-death and the loss of the Jewel, and he would drag them to every corner of Japan to hunt down the monkey youkai. And that was fine - even if there was a part of that where he was going to finally yell at her for losing the Shikon no Tama. Yes, she thought he should have some of the guilt, but she also felt that she had gotten off particularly light in the 'getting yelled at' category. Besides, it would give her a sense of normalcy.
She stood up slowly, using his shoulder as support and shrugging off the blanket. "You're going now?" he asked, turning his face up to look at her.
"Well, when else? I really should go to a doctor soon rather than later. As it is, he's going to wonder why I didn't come to him immediately after bashing my head in," she pointed out.
He nodded once before a frown spread across his features. "Kagome," he began, "have you ever been able to travel through the well without the Jewel?"
"No. Remember that time that you pushed..." She trailed off as the color drained from her face. "Oh, no."
And she was off running again. Almost immediately, she felt ill, like her brain and stomach were both just sloshing around inside of her. Inuyasha's arm wrapped around her waist in a moment and he carried her the last few feet. "Don't make yourself worse," he growled, jumping gracefully over the lip of the well and into its depths.
She buried her head in his shoulder. "I can't look," she sobbed as they floated through the air.
But she felt him land. A trill of fear went through her as she realized that it hadn't been long enough, that he hadn't replied, and that he wasn't reassuring her. His claws tightened around her waist, snagging in her clothes. She took a deep breath and could still smell the fresh outside air instead of the musty inside of the well house. And still she kept her head down and her eyes closed.
Inuyasha stood still for a long moment, his muscles moving slightly under her as he breathed. "Kagome..."
She didn't need to hear him say it. She burst into tears.
A/N: Well? What do you think of the beginning? This is a prologue of sorts - expect more detail and fleshing out later (and longer chapters!). Obviously, Sesshoumaru gets more than a cameo. LoL. Anyway, please review!